When the Mario Sports franchise took off in the late 90’s with Nintendo 64 entries Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, it seemed as though Nintendo had a hit on their hands. Unfortunately as they attempted to reach out to other sports during the Gamecube era, the series dropped in quality quickly. The easy to pick up and play sports games, started getting a little too generic and were a little too simple. In 2013 when Mario Golf: World Tour was released it seemed as though new life had been instilled in the series. Mario Sports Superstars attempts to reinvent the series by bringing back some classic Mario sports (tennis and golf), some that haven’t seen the light of day for a while (baseball and soccer), and a brand new sport (horseback riding). The results are middling.
First things first, Mario Sports Superstars is incredibly basic in every way, shape, and form. The sports are playable and function as they should, but outside of that there is very little content here. Every sport has three cups, and when you complete the third cup you unlock an additional cup. Once you’ve completed the final cup you get a star version of the character that you’ve been playing with. Not much of a reward.
Each cup is presented in a tournament bracket which will be familiar to anyone who played Mario Tennis Open on the 3DS or Mario Tennis Ultra Smash on the Wii U. Essentially each cup consists of three matches or rounds depending on the sport that you’re playing. They go by fast, and then you start over again at a slightly higher difficulty.
On the consoles the Mario Sports series has never been known for deep character progression, but the handheld versions have always had light RPG elements that focused on building your character and becoming a better athlete. Nintendo foolishly dropped this for the underwhelming Mario Tennis Open, and then brought it back in spades for Mario Golf: World Tour, which is not only the best Mario sports game, but probably my favorite sports game of all time. With the series severely dropping in quality over the last decade, it’s confusing why Nintendo would again drop the feature that makes the handheld entries stand out.
So let’s start with the sports. There are a total of five sports: soccer, baseball, golf, tennis, and horseback ridding. The gameplay for all the sports is fine. Baseball especially surprised me, because I have never been able to successfully grasp a baseball game in the past. Knowing which button to press to throw to which base always ends up being more complicated than I expect it to be and end up throwing away a lot of runs because I just don’t know what I’m doing. In this instance I appreciate the simplicity.
Soccer is another sport that I’ve never really played in video game form and I found myself enjoying playing the sport as well. Aside from the golf game it is the one that I enjoyed the most. The matches were thrilling for the most part, and getting a last minute goal to win or the tie the game filled me with great satisfaction.
The rest of the sports range from meh to downright lazy. The golf is your typical Mario Golf experience with nearly every feature stripped from it. Each character has one club, and the courses only go up to nine holes. There is not a single eighteen hole course in this game. The only game mode that is available is stroke play, where you and a computer character take turns. Whoever finishes the hole with the least amount of strokes is determined the winner. With Mario Golf World Tour already available on the 3DS, if you’re in this just for the golf you’re going to be severely disappointed.
Tennis is just as sloppy as it was on the Wii U and it’s previous 3DS offering. Tennis is my favorite sport to play in real life, and I love tennis video games as well but this is as low as it gets. They’ve stripped down the modes from Open, and changed nothing else. It’s a true shame, since Mario Tennis has been begging for a World Tour-esque reboot.
The final sport, horseback racing is oddly enough the deepest offering. There are a wide variety of horses that you can unlock and race with. The racing mechanic however is plain boring. It’s incredibly similar to Link riding Epona in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time only this time you’re riding along side other racers. The cups are presented in a Mario Kart format. The higher you place the more points you get, and the racer with the most points at the end of the three races is the winner. I found myself struggling to even get through one race, let alone all three races in a cup.
The laziness doesn’t stop with the gameplay. It follows through in the graphics and animations as well. While I was not playing on a New 3DS where it might look prettier, this game doesn’t have any graphic upgrades from World Tour which came out three years ago. The animations are embarrassing. Take baseball for example, if there is a pop-fly that is caught in the outfield, instead of the ball being caught in a glove the ball disappears at the outfielder’s feet. It can create quite a bit of confusion when you first start playing, because it looks like the ball was landed on the field instead of being caught. You get used to it after a few innings, but again it’s just lazy.
In soccer, after a while the ball begins to glow indicating that a power shot is available. Every character that I played with had the exact same animation for their power shot. Just pure laziness. The idea of multiple sports in one game seemed like a great idea after how many strides forward Mario Golf World Tour took. Unfortunately Mario Sports Superstars is more than a few steps back.
There are multiplayer options, but I don’t see this game having much of an online community with it’s limited features. If there’s one saving grace for this game it’s that as a game to play on the go, it works well. My deciding factor for purchasing the game was to play it on the bus and in the twenty or so increments that I’ve been playing on the go it’s manageable. It’s a straight forward way to kill some time without having to play long enough to get bored or frustrated.
I had high hopes for Mario Sports Superstars, and they were dashed in every sense of the word. The game is playable, it’s just not much fun. If you’re looking for another Mario Strikers (soccer) or Mario Super Sluggers (baseball) there might be just enough here to keep you satisfied. If you’re looking for anything else you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Final Score: 5.5/10